How to Take Good Notes

Admit it, you’ve been there—a test or essay deadline approaches, and you scramble to gather notes using what you think is the “best” or “most efficient” note-taking method. But what is that method? What is the best way to study and keep good notes? Allow me to let you in on a very important secret: there is no “best” note-taking technique!

Note-taking is all about how your own unique brain processes information. A note-taking system that works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you, though it’s always worth a try. As a high schooler, you are frequently asked to take your learning into your own hands. Identifying a note-taking strategy that works well for you and developing your own independent study skills is a great place to start.

Note-taking is a visual representation of your mind at work, and the mind is often messy, especially at the beginning of a learning experience when you’re diving into something unfamiliar and new. Some people like to fit new knowledge into a familiar box in order to comprehend it. Others need to muck around in the unknown more ambiguously first, before they discover a frame for their new knowledge.

Whether you are defining complex terms in biology using flashcards or analyzing a character’s actions in literature by writing a diary entry in their voice, writing out content in your own words is a crucial first step toward true understanding.

Whatever your approach to note-taking may be, remember that there is no single best method for how to study, but there can be a study skill that turns out to be the best method for you. It may take some time to discover what that method is, so don’t be afraid to try new skills and explore!

Here are a few note-taking techniques several Oak Meadow high school teachers recommend. Try them out, pass them on to a friend, or see what new techniques they help you think up on your own:

K-W-L Chart (Know – Want to Know – Learned)
A great tool for guiding you through a text, KWL Charts demonstrate your prior knowledge of the topic, set a purpose for your reading, and help you monitor your comprehension by brainstorming everything you already Know about the subject; generating a list of questions of what you Want to Know; and answering those questions about what you have Learned. Find a blank chart example here.

Check your own reading comprehension by turning a topic or title, i.e. “The XYZ Affair” into a question, i.e. “What were the effects of the XYZ Affair?” then answer it fully in your own words.

Cornell Method
One of the most popular note-taking strategies out there is the Cornell Method, a structure for organizing different kinds of information on one subject clearly and efficiently. Find an example and guidelines here.

Two-Column Method
This note-taking method, pioneered by Landmark College, stimulates active reading and can help you parcel out main ideas in one column with specific details in the other. Read about it here and give it a try!

Graphic Organizers
Education Place has a treasure trove of printable graphic organizers for all subjects and approaches. Find one that works for you here!

Annotation Technique
When reading for a class, write margin notes that help you organize different strands of thought. Use question marks for passages that confused you, exclamation points for important plot points, underlined text for passages you enjoyed, and highlighted text for passages relevant to your writing assignments. Write thoughts in your own words in the margins to jump start ideas for your essays.

Talk to Your Mirror
Whether you are practicing the same text over and over with the goal of memorization, or in need of a strategy for explaining concepts in your own words, find a bit of private space and talk it out with your reflection.

Finding the Right Fit: Part II

In our first blog post on finding the right fit, we looked at homeschooling styles to fit every type of family and learner. Now we’ll look at the many ways Oak Meadow can be part of your homeschooling journey, no matter where it takes you.
How does Oak Meadow curriculum fit into my family’s style of homeschooling?

Finding the right homeschooling style and curriculum to fit your family can be an adventure, a quest, or a confusing jumble (depending on how you look at it!). As children grow and family circumstances change, it’s not unusual to change how you homeschool.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part II. Photo: Moreland family
Photo Credit: Moreland Family/Oak Meadow

“We love Oak Meadow! This our 5th year homeschooling. The first couple of years I tried all kinds of curricula, texts, teaching methods, etc. Nothing seemed to fit my kid’s learning style, my teaching style, or our lifestyle. Then we found Oak Meadow. It was like coming home!”
Whether you use traditional schooling methods, an eclectic approach, unschooling, or something in between, Oak Meadow curriculum can fit your homeschooling methods, allowing your teaching style to flex and adapt as your family’s needs change. Over the years, we’ve heard from many families about how they use Oak Meadow, and we’ve included their thoughts as well to help you imagine the possibilities.
“I wanted to share this with you. Our daughter has hated the idea of going to school for the last 3 years. The last time she was this excited was her 1st day of school and she has begged to stay home every day since. We have been working baby steps in getting her prepared for home schooling. Everything so far has been amazing. Thank you so much for providing such a great learning experience and more so a great life experience. I am overjoyed at the thought that our daughter will look back at her elementary years and love every second of it. And it all started with a box.”
20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part II: Loving Oak Meadow's box of possibilities! Credit: Stonehouse family
Photo Credit: Stonehouse family/Oak Meadow

Boxed curriculum: Oak Meadow curriculum gives you a full year of lesson plans for each subject (in 36 weekly lessons). Families love receiving their Oak Meadow boxes! We often hear stories about children diving into the box and wandering off to read the books long before they are assigned. Students who are working independently, which usually begins in earnest around 6th or 7th grade, often find it very satisfying to know in advance exactly what they will be studying, how many more lessons there are, which assignments will be covered in a particular week, etc. Oak Meadow’s K-8 curriculum is integrated, particularly in relation to English and social studies, which is another benefit of having a complete curriculum set rather than piecing things together from diverse sources.

“I have to tell you how excited we were to receive our 2nd grade curriculum. We opened it together. One of the twins took off with his reader and read and laughed his way through the afternoon… The other twin looked at the song book (from 1st grade) and asked if I knew any of the songs. Luckily, I remembered “Oh how lovely is the evening” from my first grade so many years ago. So he learned to sing it gleefully. When Dad came home, our son looked up  at the sky and noted, “Mom, it’s evening. Let’s sing our song.” So we did. We haven’t even formally begun schooling, and already our children love the curriculum. THIS is what learning should be.”

Eclectic homeschooling: For parents who enjoy the process of seeking out a unique mix of resources to create a customized homeschooling curriculum, Oak Meadow materials can be used in several ways. You can use specific syllabi, such as 6th grade math or 8th grade civics, as the cornerstone for a particular subject, or you can use our materials to supplement another program. You can also use our grade overviews (found in the K-8 catalog) or high school course suggestions by grade (found in the high school catalog) as you plan your yearly studies. These resources can help you feel confident that your eclectic approach will be built on a well-rounded educational foundation.

“We have created an environment in our home which is “prepared,” everything has a component of learning and children naturally go toward what they are attracted and will learn by doing. Oak Meadow is wonderful in that it helps create wide open parameters without the pressure…”

Traditional schooling at home: For families who prefer a textbook and worksheet approach, Oak Meadow’s math books in grades 4-8 include worksheets with practice problems and answers in the back of the book for students to self-correct their practice sets. Test answers are included separately for the parent to use in grading the work. Beginning in grade 4, the curriculum is designed for the student to read and use independently (with parent support as needed). Our high school courses are also designed to be self-paced, and the science, math and social studies courses are textbook-based with an Oak Meadow course book that includes a full year of varied and engaging assignments to accompany the textbook readings.

“Oak Meadow is the most comprehensive curriculum there is. It provides structure and the flexibility to customize the program with plenty of room for creativity.”

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part II
Photo Credit: Oak Meadow

Interest-led learning: Families who allow their child’s interests to guide the learning process can benefit from using a wide variety of research materials and resources to help them find imaginative ways to explore the topic at hand. Oak Meadow can be used to supplement interest-led learning and to spark ideas about new ways to work with the material. You will find dozens of social studies projects and science experiments about a wide variety of topics. You can view our English curriculum for recommended reading lists in conjunction with a particular social studies topic (5th grade for U.S. history, 6th grade for ancient civilizations, 7th grade for world history, and 8th grade for civics) and use our grammar books (such as Writing for 100 Days or The Elements of Style) for writing specifics. Math books can be kept on hand to explain concepts and provide practice, if needed (for instance, 4th grade math for long division and fractions, 6th grade math for decimals and percentages, or 8th grade math for variables and scientific notation).

“We do Oak Meadow and unschooling! We follow a slight routine for the morning and do Oak Meadow activities. In the afternoon we do whatever we feel like learning about (a chance to let the kids share their interests)… I don’t force anything either. If my kids are in [the mood for] a day for doing nothing but reading, we find a topic they like and read. Although I do have one mandatory day a week where they have to do one worksheet in each subject (reading/writing/math/arts). They call it worksheet day and have fun doing it.”

Roamschooling: Taking your learning on the road—or the high seas—can mean taking your books along, too, or learning from resources you find as you go. Today many people are connected to the internet no matter where they go, so it is easy to get online resources (including Oak Meadow’s K-8 curriculum online), but many still prefer a book when it comes to learning. Oak Meadow’s curriculum packages make it easy to have everything in one place, or you can choose to bring only those books that your student will need (such as math or novels), leaving the rest of the learning open-ended, based on where your travels take you.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part II
Photo Credit: Crawford family/Oak Meadow

“…the method makes so much sense to us, and our student is REALLY HAPPY! We are all very happy. We are so happy to have FINALLY found where we fit in. Turns out we fit in with Oak Meadow… You have made our real life (which is filled with trips to the Nature Center and just lots of time outside in general) fit into our teaching day, not separate from it.”

Unschooling: It may come as a surprise to learn that unschoolers often use books, even schoolbooks! The difference is that students can choose what, when and how they want to learn. Oak Meadow books are appealing to many students who are exploring their passions because our assignments are often creative, artistic and unique (just like many unschoolers are). Sharing curriculum books on subjects your unschooler is interested in can give your child another option in the wide world of learning that surrounds us all.
20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part II
Photo Credit: Bellamy family/Oak Meadow

“The curriculum has meant everything to us. We have a positive view of life, our daughter feels empowered. The curriculum teaches her what she needs but keeps enough free time for her to “know herself.” She has become such a helpful member of our family regarding chores and a daily rhythm, and she is loved by friends at co-op, soccer, etc. We are so in love with Oak Meadow. It fits us perfectly.”

Whatever your approach, Oak Meadow curriculum invites customization—and encourages you to infuse the experience with your family’s own interests, ideas, and resources. Oak Meadow also provides wonderful supportive resources and inspiration for all our families that can enhance the overall learning experience. Find great ideas on our over 50 searchable boards on Pinterest, join our lively and encouraging community on our Facebook page, and subscribe to our free education journal, Living Education, for homeschooling information, advice, research, and inspiring ideas. And of course, In the Meadow will continue to bring you resources and thought-provoking blogs throughout the year.
As you search for the right fit for your family, we’re here to help. And please let us know what homeschooling style works best for you and your family! We love to hear how families use our curriculum to support their home learning in whatever direction it takes them.

Finding the Right Fit: Part I

Homeschooling is all about finding the right fit: finding what works for each child, for the homeschooling parent, and for the family’s lifestyle and values. Luckily, homeschooling has gained mainstream popularity in the last decade and the resources for homeschoolers have exploded into a veritable feast of choices.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog Photo Credit: Pierre Vignau
Photo Credit: Pierre Vignau/Oak Meadow

There are curriculum choices for every learning style, family value, and educational goal. Not only that, but there are so many amazing, experienced homeschoolers sharing their ideas and wisdom via websites, blogs, books, magazines, and journals that homeschooling in many ways is easier than ever before.

But how do you choose from all these fantastic options? How can you tell if a certain curriculum or homeschooling style will work for your family? How do you know if your child will respond well to a traditional approach, an eclectic style, or boxed curriculum? What’s the difference between interest-led learning, roamschooling, and unschooling? Starting out as a new homeschooler, it can all be more than a little bewildering and overwhelming.

Take a deep breath and relax. Here’s some help—a handy list of the basic styles of homeschooling, how each works, and who might like it best.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog: Oak Meadow 6th grade curriculum package
Oak Meadow 6th grade curriculum package

Boxed curriculum: Having all the lesson plans for each subject for a full year in one place can be the best way to help you feel comfortable about homeschooling and confident about your ability to do it well. Getting a full set of curriculum books doesn’t mean you can’t have any input or follow your child’s interests, though. It just means you have something to fall back on, and have a general plan to your days and weeks that reassures you that there won’t be any big gaps in your child’s education. It also makes it really easy for your child to see what needs to be done, and for you to organize your year-end reporting to the state. There are many different types of boxed curriculum, from religion-based to literature- or history-based to creative and integrated (like Oak Meadow). Boxed curriculum can include assignments that range from hands-on projects to worksheets and tests so the kind of student this approach works well for depends on what type of curriculum you choose. Using a boxed curriculum is a good fit for parents who are new to homeschooling and want everything planned out for them, or for those who would rather spend time enriching the homeschooling experience than creating it from scratch.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog: Credit:
Photo Credit:

Eclectic homeschooling: A lot of veteran homeschoolers find themselves doing a bit of this and a bit of that, choosing from a wide variety of sources to help each child learn best. This eclectic style can work especially well in larger families because you will naturally acquire a great deal of curriculum over the years. You might find that a particular math program works very well for your family, and you like the science labs from a certain website. You might use literature to teach history, and find a writing program that appeals to you. In this way, you piece together a complete curriculum from an eclectic array of resources based on your child’s learning preferences and educational needs. The eclectic approach works very well for parents who are comfortable with a little more flexibility and who have the time, energy and willingness to seek out resources and design a comprehensive program from diverse materials.

Traditional schooling at home: While relatively few homeschoolers try to replicate a traditional classroom approach at home, there are many who use textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, and tests with great success. Textbooks usually present a topic in a well-organized, comprehensive way and many have accompanying workbooks with related assignments and fill-in-the-blank worksheets. You might want to forgo textbooks and use worksheets to accompany learning from other sources (such as literature, research books, and the internet). Having worksheets allows kids to be self-paced because skills are presented in a very organized progression, and you can easily grade the worksheets and see where more help is needed. Many kids, especially those who respond well to repetitive drills, find worksheets to be satisfying because they often focus on one skill at a time, and many parents like worksheets because they can have time to work one-to-one with a child while the others are busy on their own. Many families find that worksheets work particularly well for math since most students need a fair amount of repetition to build math skills. The traditional school approach works best for families who prefer a highly organized structure, and for students who can sit for a focused period of time and who learn best through written information and instructions.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog; Credit: regstuff, Widimedia Commons
Photo Credit: regstuff/Wikimedia Commons

Interest-led learning: Interest-led learning means allowing your child’s interests to guide the direction of the studies. The beauty of interest-led learning is that you can introduce core academic skills (such as grammar or fractions) in relation to topics that your child is naturally drawn to. Of course, this means more work for the parent but it’s not as hard as it sounds. As adults, we already understand how much something like math or good writing skills come in handy in daily life, so incorporating these elements into a project of your child’s making—say, a dinosaur stop-action film or a storyboard for a new video game—can be pretty seamless. You can use resources like math books or grammar books; in fact, you’ll probably find yourself acquiring a large selection of supplements and research books. Interest-led learning is a great fit for students who love to dive into a topic wholeheartedly and for parents who are in a position to support their child’s learning in imaginative ways.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog: Credit: Dirk Tussing
Photo Credit: Dirk Tussing/Oak Meadow

Roamschooling: This word conjures up fantastic images of taking your learning out into the world, and that’s exactly what it is. Roamschooling is often a combination of interest-led learning and unschooling. At its core, it is simply learning by exploring the world. Your explorations don’t have to take you far, but often families travel across the country or around the world while roamschooling (sometimes this is called roadschooling). This style of homeschooling often works very well if the parents have jobs that require travel or if their work allows them to live anywhere. As you can imagine, the sky’s the limit with roamschooling and everyone does it differently. Many parents are most comfortable when they have a basic idea of the core academic skills they want their children to acquire along the way, and with a basic idea in mind, it’s relatively easy to supplement as needed to make sure all the bases are covered. Learning through travel adventures and/or community explorations offers educational opportunities that take kids far beyond the basics. Roamschooling is a great option for students who are naturally social, active and outgoing, and for parents who are comfortable with not knowing where the day will lead.
20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog; Credit: Gifford family
Photo Credit: Gifford Family/Oak Meadow

Unschooling: Unschooling, which seems to be gaining popularity, is the perfect antidote to school burnout. There is something very healing about letting children revert back to learning because they want to rather than because they have to. The unschooling approach allows children to learn by living and doing, and doesn’t require them to pass specific benchmarks or acquire certain skills. Of course, kids who are following their own interests and learning as they please often pick up most of the academic basics along the way. They might realize they need to know something about fractions and geometry if they are going to build a really sturdy treehouse, so they take the time to learn. Many unschoolers become excellent readers with extensive vocabularies. Some parents make sure there are books about math, grammar, history, etc. available but don’t assign required reading. Others assign a minimum of schoolwork to make sure the bases are covered, and let their children unschool the rest of the time. Unschooling works particularly well for self-motivated students who love to learn by doing, and for parents who trust that the learning process will unfold naturally if a child is given the time and space to explore life.

There are many more categories of homeschooling that could be added to this list but this gives you a good idea of the possibilities. Most families who homeschool for more than one year end up using a combination of these approaches as time goes by. Since children change as they grow, and family circumstances and opportunities change, it makes sense that our homeschooling will change over time, too.

As parents, we often get a good sense of what will or won’t work with our children, but sometimes we have to experiment with different homeschooling methods before we find the right fit. What works one year with one child might not work the next year with the next child (or even with the same child!). Don’t be afraid to try something new.

20 Questions About Homeschooling: Finding the Right Fit, Part I from Oak Meadow's IN the Meadow blog; Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes
Credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes/Oak Meadow

As your children get older, they can have a say in their education, too. Trust them. Trust yourself. Learning will happen—it’s as much a part of being human as breathing.

Your turn: If you are new to homeschooling, what style do you feel drawn towards? If you have been homeschooling for a while, what works well for your family? Has your homeschooling style evolved over the years?

See also Finding the Right Fit, Part II: How Oak Meadow curriculum can help you on your homeschooling adventure.